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Syntactic Dislocation in English Congregational Song between 1500 and 1900

A Corpus-based Study


Kirsten Gather

A famous English hymn does not start with He who would be valiant, but He who would valiant be with valiant in dislocated position in the clause. The aim of this study is to analyse syntactic dislocation in English congregational song between 1500 and 1900 and to examine its motivations and developments. Poetic factors, like metre and rhyme, can be assumed as primary causes. Moreover, two contrasting dislocation patterns emerge, which show the interplay of poetic requirements and syntactic criteria. The first pattern occurs mainly in metrical psalms, while the second pattern is typical of hymns. With these patterns as a basis of comparison, syntactic dislocation is a decisive factor that makes congregational song conservative both compared to secular poetry and to religious prose.
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5 The Corpus of Congregational Song


The corpus that provides the material for this study is part of the Corpus of English Religious Prose (CoERP), which is currently being compiled at the University of Cologne.1 The corpus of congregational song was built from scratch due to the lack of adequate material in other corpora.

All in all, there are rather few corpora of English verse, and most of them contain only secular poetry. Corpora of Old and Middle English verse can be ignored since they neither cover the period in question, i.e. from 1500 to 1900, nor contain any congregational song. Usually, multi-genre corpora of Early and Late Modern English do not offer any poetry at all.2 Only author-based corpora, which feature the literary output of a single poet, e.g. Shakespeare or Milton3, do of course comprise verse. But since no such corpus exists for authors of congregational song, corpora of this kind are irrelevant to this study.

What is more is that congregational song has always had a low status in poetry. This is, among other things, a result of the possible selection of stanzas and the quite common practice to alter original song texts. So even if verse genres were included in Early or Late Modern English corpora, they would likely be anything other than congregational song. That the genre is dichotomous in that it consists of both text and music, is another reason why it would not be the first choice in corpus compilation. Apart from a...

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